Astrobotic is enlisting the help of space industry experts to assist with the Griffin landing mission

Astrobotic is enlisting the help of space industry experts to assist with the Griffin landing mission

WASHINGTON – As Astrobotic Corp. wraps up investigation of the first lunar lander, the company is tapping officials with industry experience to help develop a second, larger lander.

Astrobotic announced on March 21 that it had appointed Steve Clark as its new vice president of lander and spacecraft, and Frank Perry as director of engineering. It also appointed Mike Gazarek and Jim Reuter as advisors.

Clark is a former NASA administrator who has held positions that include serving as deputy associate administrator for exploration in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, and overseeing the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program of which Astrobotic is a part. He was most recently Director of Future Architecture at Sierra Space. Perry is the former director of the Safety and Mission Assurance Office at NASA Langley Research Center.

Astrobotic CEO John Thornton said in an interview that the appointments are aimed at bringing in people with broad experience to help with the company’s other lunar lander-related projects.

“He understands the CLPS model because he started the CLPS model at NASA,” Clark said. “He brings a lot of talent and the right skills to the company and to the Griffin program in particular.” Griffin is a lunar lander being built by Astrobotic that is larger than the Peregrine lander it launched in January.

Thornton said the company hired Perry because of his background in safety and mission assurance at NASA Langley. “This will be an area that we will do more to advance here at Astrobotic, and we are thrilled to have him on board and help us guide our engineering teams, building a team capable of not just flying successfully once but again and again.”

Gazarek and Reuter, both former NASA associate administrators for space technology, are the first consultants the company has publicly announced, although Thornton said many others are helping the company in less formal ways. “We can basically call any one of these people and get some experts in almost any field.”

These appointments come as Astrobotic works to conclude its investigations of Peregrine Mission 1, the first lunar landing mission. That spacecraft was launched on January 8, but suffered a propellant leak hours after liftoff, preventing it from landing on the moon’s surface. The spacecraft flew for a week and a half in lunar space before re-entering the South Pacific Ocean.

Astrobotic said at the time of the mission that the likely cause of the leak was a valve failure that caused helium to rush into the oxidizer tank, overpressuring it. “They’re making really good progress,” Dan Hendrickson, vice president of business development at Astrobotic, said at a March 21 session of the American Astronautical Society’s Goddard Space Science Symposium. “We are working hard to get to the root cause which will then determine the corrective actions we will take on the next landing mission, which is Griffin.”

Thornton said the review, which includes outside experts, should be completed in “weeks, not months,” but the company has not set a deadline for its conclusion.

“If it takes additional time to find all the issues and make sure we fully understand them, we will take that time, balanced against the need for that feedback as quickly as possible for Griffin,” he said. This means incorporating some of the lessons learned into Griffin even as the investigation progresses.

Griffin’s assembly process is proceeding well as the investigation continues, but he said the company is preparing to make some adjustments based on the outcome of the investigation. “We anticipated where the impacts would be and basically stayed away from those areas,” such as valves, he said.

These changes will not only affect Griffin’s equipment, but also its schedule, he said. The lander was scheduled to launch late this year to deliver NASA’s Volatile Investigation of Polar Exploration (VIPER) rover to the Moon’s south polar regions to search for water ice. Once the investigation into the failure is completed, “we will then know what to do and what impact it will have.”

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